A study in mice and humans suggests that bacteria in the gut can influence the structure of the brain’s blood vessels, and may be responsible for producing malformations that can lead to stroke or epilepsy. The research, published in Nature, adds to an emerging picture that connects intestinal microbes and disorders of the nervous system. The study was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Cerebral cavernous malformations (CCMs) are clusters of dilated, thin-walled blood vessels that can lead to seizures or stroke when blood leaks into the surrounding brain tissue. A team of scientists at the University of Pennsylvania investigated the mechanisms that cause CCM lesions to form in genetically engineered mice and discovered an unexpected link to bacteria in the gut. When bacteria were eliminated the number of lesions was greatly diminished.

“This study is exciting because it shows that changes within the body can affect the progression of a disorder caused by a genetic mutation,” said Jim I. Koenig, Ph.D., program director at NINDS.

The researchers were studying a well-established mouse model that forms a significant number of CCMs following the injection of a drug to induce gene deletion. However, when the animals were relocated to a new facility, the frequency of lesion formation decreased to almost zero.

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Dr. Stegall’s Comments: A significant amount of research has been conducted over the past few years on the importance of the gut microbiome. We must view the small intestine and colon as an open system, rather than a close system, meaning that what our gut sees and processes is shared with the rest of the body. The effects of this are far-reaching, as both the good and bad we obtain from the environment gets sent to our nervous system, immune system, circulatory system, etc. We now know that the gut is a major part of our immune system, which should caution us as to what we are eating and drinking on a daily basis.